In the words of Rick Mirigian: The making of Jose Ramirez

Luca Rosi
19/04/2018 7:15pm

Rick Mirigian, next to Jose and Bob Arum  (Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams, Top Rank)

Manager Rick Mirigian gives Luca Rosi the inside story of the rise of undefeated WBC super lightweight champion Jose Ramirez, whose career he has guided since 2010...

Having started out by using his student loan to organise a party at Fresno State University, Rick Mirigian then promoted hundreds of events, putting on shows with Beyonce, George Lopez, Chris Brown, Kobe Bryant, the LA Lakers, the Kardashians and many more. His sole focus now is as manager to the recently crowned WBC super lightweight champion of the world.

mirigian1Boxing Monthly wanted to get the full story about the journey of rising world boxing superstar, Jose Ramirez. Who better to answer these questions than the 40-year-old Mirigian - a Fresno native who has masterminded Ramirez's career since 2010…

On discovering Ramirez…
Rewind back to 2010. Boxing was dead in California at the time, it didn’t draw anyone, there was no interest. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was the hot ticket. I had put on the biggest martial fights in our area with 5,000 tickets sold. I had to switch venue in Fresno because they didn’t want combat sports in that part of town, so I had to move to a baseball stadium. At that time I was approached by a US boxing coach who asked if they could put on an amateur boxing exhibition. As I had already paid for the stadium they would do it during the day, so it wouldn’t interfere. I was glad to help them out. The exhibition would take place and I’d be watching from across the stadium. A friend of mine and US boxing coach [Pete Lopes], who knew me from Fresno State, mentioned to me that a special kid was going to fight later. Last thing I needed was an amateur fighter, I had rappers, MMA fighters, comedians calling me, so I didn’t have time for a boxer. But he told me I might be able to change that and he insisted that this kid could have everything to help alter that perception. I was already buried in work. I watched the fight... Jose was 16 years old and was fighting a 20-year-old police officer who wanted to turn pro. Jose beat him in dominant fashion. But I didn’t think one thing of it and went back to doing my work. My friend said that I should introduce myself to him, so I went down there and congratulated him, he thanked me and we went our separate ways. That was it.

On true numbers…
At 1am I got a text message from the same friend who said to ‘Google’ Ramirez. I didn’t see anything, there were no stories, no info. All I found was random fight data that would say 'Miami, Florida - win', 'Texas - win', 'Oklahoma - win'. There was no pattern. I was counting up the number of wins and I got to 80. There’s no way this kid has 80 wins I thought – what, he’s been fighting since the age of one?! I was a boxing fan and had watched Tyson and De La Hoya but didn’t know about amateur boxing. I woke up in the morning, my computer still on, and I kept counting wins. I got to 103. This is ridiculous. So, I called up the Olympic training facility at Colorado Springs to verify the numbers and was told that Jose had 101 wins and 10 national titles, he was one of the best in the US and would have started boxing at around seven or eight years of age. I told an employee of mine to prepare a spreadsheet with the top ten Olympic boxers from the past 20 years and to put all info onto a spreadsheet with Jose’s name in the middle, highlighted in yellow. In my line of work as a promoter numbers usually don’t lie. This kid has a chance to write history, I thought. None of these other guys failed and they were all household names such as De La Hoya, Vargas, Mayweather. It piqued my curiosity.

On meeting with Jose and his family…
I drove to Avenal, which is a very small city in California, tucked away in the middle of mountains – a farm working community with a population of 3,000 people. From an outsider’s standpoint I thought of boxers as rough - coming from broken homes, foster kids, the boxing stereotype, problematic kids, fighting all the time, bad grades etc. When I went to meet Jose, it was the complete opposite. His is a super close-knit Catholic family. Jose spoke very soft and hits very hard, as I like to describe him. Here was a 3.9 student at high school who was also into soccer, baseball and cross country, as well as boxing. He worked in the fields during the summer to support his family financially. This was a very driven, well put together young man, the furthest thing from what anyone would think a boxer is.

On the road to the Olympics…
I drove back to Fresno and said: 'I’m going to try something'. I told him I thought I could market and promote him. This was 2010 when he was still an amateur. He needed exposure, people needed to know who he was for him to become valuable – he had to make a name for himself. I said that I’d take the journey with him. If I failed, I failed but if I pulled it off he had to give me a chance to be there with him. No strings attached, I didn’t want him to sign a contract, just wanted to work and see if I could pull this off for a while. What did he have to lose? I was accomplished in my area. So, I travelled on the amateur boxing circuit to places like Mobile, Alabama, staying in horrible hotel rooms. But every time he won I would market him, ‘Ramirez approaches De La Hoya record’, ‘Ramirez edges towards Olympics’... I would email ESPN, Yahoo, AOL, the Huffington Post and I would bombard these guys and create angles and storylines. He kept winning, the storylines got better, and he was approaching these records. And off we went for next two years promoting his path to the 2012 London Olympics. I had secured some very large sponsors such as Wonderful Pistachios and the Resnick Family. I was the only person in USA boxing to get a deal like that put together for a fighter and even got him on McDonald’s cups so that 18 million could see his face on badges and images. He would become an Olympian and break De La Hoya’s amateur record for six consecutive men’s gold medals – he won every men’s national tournament in the USA boxing programme. We stayed in London a whole month and loved it. Thanks to Wonderful Pistachios we had a gigantic flat in central London, one of best areas in town. It was fantastic.

On signing the first pro contract…
We negotiated with Oscar De La Hoya and Bob Arum at the end of 2012. We went with Top Rank as I wanted to put on fights with Jose in Fresno twice a year and part of the deal was to co-promote shows, as he was young. Golden Boy wasn’t interested at the time, Arum knew my background and gave me a chance. I was totally committed to the project and I took a big chance. My sole focus was to get Jose to the finishing line.

On selling out shows…
Coming out of the Olympics we wanted him to turn pro on a big card (8 December 2012 at the MGM Grand on the Pacquiao vs Marquez IV bill). The plan was for him to fight three or four more times that year. I did not want to interrupt the big cards for branding purposes. At the same time, I was building his name in the local Fresno area with newscasters, writers and the community all following him. I then felt it was time to put on show in our home city, where remember boxing was dead. The first show was at the Golden Eagle Arena and we managed to sell 3,000 tickets – no one thought we’d get more than 300 to 400 – that was the average for a Top Rank small card show on Univision Spanish TV. But we blew everyone away. From there we jumped to the 10,000 seater Selland Arena in Fresno, which we sold out three times in a row. If you think that the card that Mayweather and Cotto were both on at the same arena in 2003 only sold 6,000 – Jose was 10-0 at this point when he first fought at Selland. And then we jumped to 14,000 at the Save Mart Arena and another sellout. Jose is now one of the most endorsed fighters in the pro ranks, he made the front page of the LA Times Sports section before his first appearance on the televised HBO PPV Pacquiao vs Bradley card in April 2016 (the ‘Ramirez can’t fit all sponsors on his shorts’ headline implying he had to change his shorts twice during fight). And now he has just won the WBC title at MSG which was on ESPN’s main channel. The plan is for a world title defence in the summer in Fresno, which would be a first in the city’s history. We broke and set records – when is the last time you can remember in the modern era in the United States a fighter anywhere selling out seven consecutive arenas in a row from 6-0 to 17-0 with no name for an opponent as well?

On staying grounded…
I wanted to make sure that Jose remained connected to our community. We’ve got a $60k scholarship fund for children of migrant workers with Fresno State University, we do stuff in hospitals for kids and are involved in community events. I wanted to instill this in him early on when coming through, to get that foundation for him. He’s been referred to as the ‘Next Muhammad Ali’ by Kevin Iole in a Yahoo article about his socialism and activism for water and farming rights. Jose is a special person, not just a special fighter. They come along generationally and they don't come with a handbook or instruction manual.

On managing Jose…
I’m licensed in the state of California. I put on fights with Jose for Jose – that was my promise and the deal. Whatever he does we sit and meet, we get opinions from the rest of team, but I don’t tell him what to do. I present him with information and opinions, everything from his opponent to training, we discuss as team. But the ultimate decision is his. We’re very hands on and close to the situation. He’s lucky in that he has two promoters, Top Rank as well as me. The shows are done under Jose, I got him to set up a company, we planned everything from day one. It’s JCR Promotions and I’m the guy with 50 job titles.

On Top Rank…
Mr Arum has given us the ability to co-promote and market here in California. Top Rank takes care of all the fighters, we facilitate normal things, such as marketing, promotion, venue, press and PR. It’s worked well, we’ve followed guidelines, learnt some stuff, and I’ve been fortunate to work with the best event production people in world and the best promoter. I got a Harvard Education the hard way from the best group in the world and am still learning. It didn’t come easy. I’m very grateful to learn from Bob Arum (promoter), Brad Jacobs (event producer), Bruce Trampler (matchmaker), Brad Goodman (matchmaker), Lee Samuels (publicist) – all iconic pieces of boxing history. I’ve soaked up every moment, never wasted a single second. The results that are for all to see. Jose is still very young, he’s only had 22 fights but he’s been raised properly by Top Rank who develop champions the right way – not to fast not too slow. That’s why we signed with them.

On the lost art of promotion…
Promoting is hard work. People don’t promote any more, they depend on TV, they think that putting on a card is sufficient. Nowadays promoters are lazy, they’ve been spoiled by TV revenues and forgotten what it takes to build a fighter, build a community, get the fighter endorsements and sell tickets. It’s a lost art form, you have to go back and study Don King and Arum – with all their faults they knew how to engage with a city, get the right groups behind the scenes. You look for angles to develop such as ‘Fight For Water’ as I’ve done with Jose, it’s somewhat controversial but positive. That’s what a promoter needs to do. Putting on a card is not enough.

fightforwatreOn the Latino Water Coalition…
I came up with the ‘Fight For Water’ idea. We were driving home with Jose after signing his first pro contract in Las Vegas, there was a farm on a big stretch of highway and I asked him what else he wanted to do now that he had some money. I stressed the importance of fighting for things that you care about. He pointed to this dry field. I thought he wanted help to shovel dirt! He explained the situation, that when there’s no water his father doesn’t work and with no jobs the people don’t eat. I Googled "water agencies, water groups" and found the LWC which has 50,000 members where we live. I discovered that 20,000 marched for 100 miles, so I tracked the leaders down and put an idea to them. Here was a young man who wanted to help and could bring a lot of attention to their cause. It took a bit of convincing as boxing and water is an odd marriage, but they listened, and we put together FFW which is televised nationally. Jose is behind it, it’s no gimmick, he wants to do it.

On diverse fans…
Jose’s fans are the most diverse group you’ve ever seen in boxing. I needed to market to non-boxing fans, those who have never seen a boxing match. We had to give them a reason to engage. With Jose caring about these issues, the things they loved, this would be enough of a reason, seeing him fighting for so many things other than himself. The biggest farmers in the world who had never been before to a fight have never missed one since. I knew boxing fans would come. But I had to engage - it was the non-boxing fans I had to win over. That was the big challenge.

On promoting abroad…
I watched Joshua vs Klitschko, it’s the most amazing thing to me when I see that production on TV and watch those fights with 70-80,000. It fascinates me. An international draw would be good. Jose is Hispanic and my goal in the next couple of years would be to get him big fight in Mexico and see if Top Rank would get behind it. He does need to fight abroad at some point.

On Lomachenko…
There was a BoxingScene headline that said Ramirez was robbed [at the amateur world championships in Baku, 2011]. To this date Loma never had a fight that tough, maybe Salido but that was a mismatch at the weight. Jose is a very humble fighter, doesn’t trash talk, the only person I’ve ever heard him call out is Loma. He wants to fight him. If you show that fight to 100 people, they would go 60-40 in favour of Jose. Jose is custom made for Loma – in my opinion. It’ll be a fun thing to watch as time goes on. Jose is a fighter and will fight anyone. He sparred 50+ rounds with Pacquiao, we had talks, he was ready to fight.

On a possible fight with Regis Prograis…
I have nothing more to add than what you’ve already read [Ramirez was ordered by the WBC on 23 March to make a mandatory challenge against the interim champion from New Orleans]. But I’m of the same opinion as Bob Arum - I don’t think Prograis has been promoted well, neither does he have a fan base or bring much to the table for the fight at this point. I’d like to see him get promoted more and built up a little bit before a fight with Jose. If not, that’s no big deal, I guess that’s what happens but in a perfect world he’d have a bigger profile with more proper branding and promotion.